Folk House Show in Monterey
January 31, 2011
A classic downtown Monterey victorian provided the perfect intimate setting on Friday night for five folk musicians passing through, where listeners sprawled across couches and the floor were reminded that half of what characterizes folk music is its story-telling capacity. The players spent several minutes introducing each song, with vignettes that provided the music with personal and powerful context. Without the stories--some historical, like one about western miners who used to carry tins of morphine into the mines in case an accident prompted the desire for a painless suicide, or comical, like one leading up to a tune about misadventures of laying sheet rock--this classic folk can feel excessively earnest, but the musicians' personal touch lightened the mood and carved each artist's personal space within the group.
Organized by Nick Tomb, who works with the Monterey-based non-profit Global Majority, the show featured Tomb's step brother Duncan Phillips and a group of mostly Utah-based musicians he is touring with.
Phillips picked up guitar only two years ago after his father, acclaimed folk singer Bruce "Utah" Phillips, died. Now, he has recorded a tribute album to his father featuring a dozen artists, and the first set on Friday featured tracks from the new CD. These artists shined on Phillips's classic folk sound.
For the second set, the artists played original tunes covering contemporary issues lyrically and varying in sound. Durango, Colorado-based Gigi Love's booming voice stunned the small living room, with the rugged quality of a jazz singer and just enough twang to inspire a bluegrass itch. Love sang one tune about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, perfectly fitting for a Monterey Bay audience.
Paul Rasmussen and Doug Wintch charmed the audience with some lighter fare, including one tune about upper class ennui one about fond memories that "you should've seen the chicks in '68." A funny tune, but also a reminder that trenchant sexism isn't immune to even a peacenik sensibility. Anke Summerhill sang Miner's Lullaby, the moving song about the morphine tins.
The show felt casual and cozy, like folk performed in a living room should. The audience chimed in on easy-to-remember choruses, and milled in and out with cocktails and wine. The ambiance was perfect, and though the music didn't consistently match its surroundings in quality, it was a very successful folk performance and tribute to Utah Phillips.